City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

May 22, 2017

May 21st

Filed under: Birds, Leopard slug, Light, Sounds, Weather — canopus56 @ 4:40 am

Utah Bird Population Trends

8:30 p.m. I am on a short, quick jog near twilight, and towering broken clouds float from the west to east over the lower canyon. As the sun nearly sets, dimmed green and brown ridgeline contrasts with slate gray cloud bottoms below the descending sunset line, but the cloud tops are enveloped in a bright pink and white hues against the deepening blue sky. Two Leopard slugs take advantage of the cool evening to cross the road. Twilight turns to night. Unlike my snowbound fall night run (December 12th) which focused on the sound of silence, tonight the crashing white noise of the stream drowns out any thoughts as I return to the gate through the darkness.

* * * *

Bird populations are almost impossible to estimate with any accuracy. The best that can usually be done is to measure changes in the density of birds and from those changes a change in the overall population level can be inferred. Numerical population estimates exist for Utah game waterfowl birds and endangered species that travel along the eastern branch of the Pacific Flyway that passes through the Great Salt Lake. The Pacific Flyway is one of the three great North American migratory bird flyways that stretch from Canada to central Mexico. Thus, the populations of many birds see in the canyon that winter to the south is dependent on the availability of habitat two thousand miles to the south. Similarly, bird populations seen to the north and south of Utah are dependent on the marshes of the Great Salt Lake. There is no alternative route for birds to cross Utah and Nevada’s arid lands.

Olson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports a 13 percent increase in waterfowl birds between 2009 and 2016 (55,868 divided by 49,464 birds) (Olsen 2017). (The Utah study methodology changed in 2009 and this prevents examining longer term trends back to 1992). With respect to non-game birds such as those smaller song birds in the canyon, Parrish, Norvell and Howe with the Utah Division of Natural Resources 1992 to 2005 study of 37 Utah bird sites found that (Parrish et al. 2007; Novell, Howe and Parrish 2005). Their study created the longest running dataset of high quality bird density estimates for the western United States (Parrish et al. 2007, 77). About half of Utah’s 440 bird species are residents; they other half are annual neotropical migrants; and, more than 70 percent of those birds use riparian habitats, like the Jordan River, as habitat during part of their life cycle (Parrish et al. 2007, 12). Based on estimated the density of 202 species of Utah birds from 1996 to 2005 from observations and recaptures, Parrish and his colleagues found that overall Utah bird populations have declined 5 percent over the thirteen years from 1992 to 2005 (id, 4, 67, Fig. 8). The Utah bird decline should be viewed within the context of the fifteen year drought cycle. The Great Salt Lake water level has been declining, its marshes have less water, and other bird refuges are drier. Population declines would be expected from such changes in habitat. Parrish, Norvell and Howe did not have a study site in City Creek Canyon.

The decline in Utah neotropical migratory birds is not uniform for birds found in City Creek Canyon. Between 1995 and 2001, the density of American Goldfinches, American Robins, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Broad-tailed hummingbirds declined, but the density of Yellow Warbler’s increased (Novell, Howe and Parrish 2005, 561-562, Figs. 2-3). Gross waterfowl populations along the Great Salt Lake are increasing, despite the drought. Available copies of their 2007 report do not provide density information disaggregated by individual species. In summary, Utah state neotropical bird studies indicate that the population of birds in the canyon relatively stable, but populations may decline further based on changes in local climate.

* * * *

Given that a high proportion of Utah birds that use riparian habitats, Parrish, Norvell and Howe recommended adoption of various management activities to improve habitat along Utah’s waterways without necessarily waiting for further study demonstrating the efficiency of remediation efforts in improving bird populations (Parrish et al. 2007, 76-77). Cause and effect are well known and obvious in these circumstances. In 2011, the Utah State Legislature authorized the expenditure of 37 million USD to support the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative for joint private-public riparian rehabilitation ventures (Clark, A., and Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2013; (Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2017b). Through 2016, the Utah Division of Wild Resources reports that it has completed 1,607 projects covering 1.3 million acres of Utah Wetlands.

The Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative has funded Yellow starthistle abatement in City Creek Canyon during 2010 through the present (Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2010, 2016, 2017a, 2017b). Those projects included chemical spraying of 8 acres in Pleasant Valley to control the weed in 2017 (Project Id. 3693), 2016 (Project Id. 3404), 2013 (Project Id. 221), spraying 70 acres in 2011 in Pleasant Valley (Project Id. 1642), and spraying 150 acres five miles up the canyon in 2010 (Project Id. 1464). Another spraying in the canyon is proposed in 2018 (Project Id. 4040). The Initiative funds the Utah Conservation Corps currently working in City Creek (May 17th, October 16th) (Utah Department of Natural Resources, 2017a).

On May 21st, 2003, in a letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, Richard Pieros observes how new FAA landing flight paths for the Salt Lake International Airport over Emigration Canyon, City Creek Canyon and the Avenues has resulted in loss of solitude. (Later, the FAA revised the flight paths and airliners no longer take off or landing over City Creek Canyon or the Avenues, except in rare unusual instances. This transfers the airport noise burden to West Valley City residents and to wildlife along the shores of the Great Salt Lake.) In May 20th, 1994, Bryant Elementary School Children participated in a neighborhood cleanup of Memory Grove and City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 21st, 1916, City Engineer Sylvester Q. Cannon planned to measure the volume of lakes in City Creek Canyon in order to see if they were suitable to act as reservoirs (Salt Lake Tribune).

April 20, 2017

April 19th

Filed under: Butterfly, Cooper's Hawk, gnats, People, Sounds, Stream, White cabbage butterfly — canopus56 @ 3:06 pm

Biophilia – Part I – Water Meditation

2:00 p.m. Stream water is at its highest under a bright sun with cold air. The loud white noise of the snow-melt engorged stream has remained a constant companion that has dominated the canyon since March 12th. Combined with today’s bright sunlight, these two forces of nature, light and water sound, drive me into a restful sleepy state. Over the last month, I have developed an involuntary reaction to seventy decibel sound of mountain water. Stegner noted that next to the loud sound of mountain water, “it is impossible to believe that one will ever be old or tired” (Stegner, 41), in part, because such water is embodies a continuing renewal of force (id). In its grasp, I must sit in the sun at one of the many benches in the canyon, close my eyes, and slowly drift and meld with its noise. It is a restorative experience. I feel the energy of the stream and sunlight flow through me while at the same time my sense of body and self dissipates. This is how the earth heals both a person’s body and soul. It is in this way in which the life-giving sun and the canyon draws one towards life and away from human activities of city life. I rise filled with love towards nature, and I am not the only one. Two others are sitting on benches near the stream with half-closed eyes.

I have always had an innate drive to be at one with nature, and some of my earliest childhood memories are related to that experience. But where does that inherited drive in me and in others who visit the canyon come from?

Yesterday’s cold rain has set the insects back, and only a few are seen this afternoon. White cabbage butterflies feed on the wild carrots heads that line the road. Two new small butterflies appear, along with some gnats and a small bee that moves to fast to identify. There is new one and one-half inch orange butterfly with subtle black marks and distinct ends to its antennae, possibly a type of fritillary. The second unidentified butterfly is a small black butterfly with jet black wing and a subtle blue-black tinge to its abdomen.

I stop at picnic site 1 and again stare transfixed staring into the water as it speeds by. Suddenly, two Cooper’s hawks land in a tree next to stream. These are the two fast fleeting shapes that I saw skimming over the road a few days ago (April 15th). They are maybe fifty feet away; this is the closest that I have ever been to these raptors; and they have also come to sun themselves. The sit motionless in the high branches lazily opening and closing their eyes. The Cooper’s hawks have a grey backs, molted-brown breast and body feathers, bright white rump feathers and a banded tail. One of this pair has piercing red eyes. It’s companion teases the other, and in response the first plumps up its white rump feathers in agitation. I stand their motionless and have a good ten minutes sharing the sun with these residents.

A group of three mothers are pushing baby carriages down the road. Between the motion and deafening white noise of the stream, the babies are all quiet and content. What impression does the sound make on their unformed, young minds? It has become the fashion to purchase technology enhanced bassinets for infants. At night, sensors detect the infant’s motion automatically rocks the bassinet and floods it with stream-like white noise. Like me, the simulated stream sound sends the infants back to sleep.

* * * *

In 1964, psychoanalyst, humanist and cultural commentator Eric Fromm termed biophilia as one of two competing forces within each of us:

“There is no more fundamental distinction between men, psychologically and morally, than the one between those who love death and those who love life, between the necrophilous and the biophilous. . . . . The full unfolding of biophilia is to be found in the productive orientation. The person who fully loves life is attracted by the process of life and growth in all spheres. . . . . Good is all that serves life; evil is all that serves death. Good is reverence for life, all that enhances, life, growth, unfolding” (Fromm, 37, 47. emphasis in original).

Fromm warned that modern bureaucratic-technological society by separating humanity from nature was driving humanity towards a necrophilous or death orientation. Homo sapiens has become what Fromm called homo consumens (Fromm, 57). Fromm’s notion of homo consumens is analogous to what modern economists call homo economicus, a idealized human who makes decisions based only on rational economic basis concerned only with the experience of life as the act of consumption. Symptomatic of homo consumens is homo mechanicus or gadget man (Fromm, 58), a person obsessed with a life-view defined by manipulation of dead machines rather interacting and participating with life (id).

Fromm viewed humans not as an essence, but as a process flowing from two contradictory facts (Fromm, Chap. 6). First, humans are animals that are part of nature. Second, humans are self-aware beings with reason. The rightful use of reason to satisfy our material needs and psychological motivations in a contradiction draws us away from nature, and this creates biophilous and necrophilous tensions within psyches. Since many of our motivations are unconscious, we can never be fully sure whether reason in service of unconscious desires are destruction or healthy. The best free choice that a man, a woman or a society can exercise is to be aware when making decisions is whether they foster the tendency toward development and life or toward of anal-narcissism and death (id).

Fromm reviews how these two forces have a long history in religion, philosophy and psychoanalysis (id). The Judeaic Genesis narrative is of separation from nature by the exercise of free choice. Adam and Eve did not sin by choosing knowledge, they where given both knowledge and free choice by a creator, and as a consequence there were sent to a life of choices that drive either towards or away from life and development as a full human being (Fromm, 19-20). The Genesis narrative has its parallel in the Greek myths. Recalling that the Greeks viewed the universe as Earth-centered, Gaia was the creator not of the Earth, but of the entire universe, including their cosmology of heavenly Gods that we retain as markers of the constellations. Humans were separated from Gaia by the first female human’s (Pandora’s) exercise of free will in choosing to open the pithos, thus separating humanity from nature.

What draws me back to reunite with nature? Enjoyment of nature is a reminder, in those several decisions that we all must make on a daily basis, to try to choose as much as is practicable that which fosters all life.

* * * *

On April 19th, 1982, Salt Lake City officials declined to act on a Davis County proposal to create a commuter connector road around Ensign Peak and City Creek Canyon (Davis County Clipper). On April 21, 1914, work on widening and improving City Creek Canyon Road was completed to Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram), but Mayor Heber M. Wells restricted the use of automobiles only up to Eleventh Avenue (id). On April 19th, 1911, City Councilperson J. W. McKinney introduced a resolution to end gravel pit operations in City Creek Canyon in order to improve water quality (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 19, 1907, the City adopted an ordinance establishing a dedicated patrolman for City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). The patrolman would be provided a horse and a salary of $2.75 per day. Duties included clearing rubbish from the canyon. Patrolman positions were also established for Parleys and Big Cottonwood and a ranchman was hired for Mountain Dell. On April 19, 1898, the City Engineer, Waterworks Superintendent, the Mayor and four citizen council members toured City Creek and recommended improvements, including repairing caved in seep tunnels and clearing and rip-raping the stream bed (Salt Lake Tribune). In 1898, there was a drought and the city officers were seeking to increase the water supply. On April 19, 1897, Mayor Glendinning toured City Creek Canyon due to flooding of Central City Neighborhoods (Salt Lake Herald).

April 6, 2017

April 3rd

Filed under: Hummingbird, Sounds, Stream — canopus56 @ 2:55 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part XV – Present Era – Plant Invaders

1:30 p.m. Yesterday’s front clears out and there is warm sun this morning, but in the afternoon the next front crosses the valley creating a cold job. The canyon is primed but in stasis. Daytime temperatures are sufficiently high for an explosion of life, but overnight freezing holds back both plants and insects. Only one songbird is heard in the thickets and they have numerous gnats to feed on that hover above the stream. The hummingbird nests at picnic site 1 are dilapidated, but ready to have their materials harvested by migrating birds for this season’s nest. The stream engorged with spring run-off remains loud, and its intense melody has continued for for almost two and one-half months (see January 16th). I take several readings: at the Red Bridge 75 decibels; at picnic site 3, 75 decibels, and at the Guardhouse Gate abandoned measuring weir, 87 decibels.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 3rd, 1842, he hears a flicker. On April 3, 1856, he notes the first green tinge of new growth forming on the landscape. He sees robins, and hears song-sparrows, redwings, and gackles. On April 3, 1858, he sees a purple finch. On April 3rd, 1859, he sees purple grasses, and yellow and red lichens and mosses.

* * * *

City Creek Canyon also contains many plant invasives. I have recorded purple tansyaster (August 8th), bull thistle (August 8th), watercressOctober 19th and January 23rd), teasel (Nov. 11th), tamarisk (Oct. 14th), and yellow star-thistles (October 16th and February 11th). Cultivars like Horsechestnut trees (October 17th), and green and red crab apple (August 10th, August 31st and November 19th) trees technically invasives. Bright-green myrtle spurge (Ephorbia myrsinites), an escapee from gardens, covers the lower canyon walls below milepost 1.0 and is found, hidden from view, on the upper south slopes of the canyon between mileposts 2.0 and 3.0. Arbor Day plantings in the canyon introduced hardwood trees such as ash and maple along with locust or Indian cluster bean (Salt Lake Herald, April 14, 1898; Salt Lake Tribune April 16th, 1898). Native tree species were also reforested into the canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, May 10th, 1918, regarding the planting of 2,000 trees).

In 2009, as part of a proposal to return the canyon to a more natural state, the City and the Forest Service proposed a controlled burn in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake City Corporation 2010a). University of Utah Biologist and former head of the Utah Native Plant Society William Gray and Westminister College Biologist A. T. Harrison performed three transects of City Creek Canyon Road and recorded many non-native and invasive plants in the canyon (Gray and Harrison 2009) as part of a City plan to restore the canyon using controlled burns (Salt Lake Dept. of Public Utilities 2010). Their work was expanded upon by University of Utah Biology Professor Lynn Bohs (Bohs 2016), and in 2016, the City produced maps surveying the location of noxious weeds in lower City Creek and in areas adjacent to City Creek, including Ensign Peak, the Avenues slope and the Warm Springs western valley slope (SWCA Environmental Consultants, Maps-21 to 27). The following is a consolidated list of the non-native plants reported in City Creek Canyon:

List of Non-Native Plants found in the Harrison-Grey 1999 Survey of City Creek (Gray 1999), Bohs’s 2016 City Creek Plant List (Bohs 2016) and SWCA Environmental Consultant Report (SWCA 2016).

• Norway maple (Acer platanoides).

• Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia).

• Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum).

• White mulberry (Morus alba).

• Green ash tree (Fraxinus americana).

• Common apple (Malus pumila).

• Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila).

• Chicory (Cichorium intybus).

• Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense).

• Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare).

• Prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola).

• Winged thistle (Onopordum acanthium).

• Salsify aka Giant dandelion (Tragopogon dubius).

• Dandelion (Taraxacum officionale).*

• Hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum officinale).*

• Smoothpod alyssum (Alyssum minus).

• Clasping pepperweed (Lepidium perfoliatum).

• Watercress (Nasturtium officinale).

• Two-seed orach (Atriplex heterosperma).

• Summer cypress (Kochia scoparia).

• Teasel, common (Dipsacus sylvestris).

• Blue myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites).

• Hop clover (Medicago lupulina).

• Alfalfa (Medicago sativa).

• White sweetclover (Melilotus alba).*

• Yellow sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis).

• Catnip (Nepeta cataria).

• Patience dock (Rumex patientia).

• Toadflax (Linaria genistifolia).

• Water speedwell (Veronica anagallis-aquatica).

• Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara).

• Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica).*

• Burdock (Arctium minus).*

• Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis).*

• Spring Parsley (Lomatium dissectum).*

• Dyer’s Woad (Isatis tinctoria).*,***

• Tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissima Ledeb.)**,***

• Hoary cress (Cardaria draba).***

• Yellow starthistle (Centaruea solstitialis).***

Entries marked with an asterisk were reported by Harrison and Gray. Double asterisk is reported by this author (Fisher) located at the picnic site 12 entrance. Triple asterisk are entries reported by SWCA Environmental Consultants. SWCA Environmental Consultants lists tamarisk below Guardhouse Gate but did not plot a location. By species count, Bohs’ list records 35 native species and the consolidated lists 36 non-native species, but the raw species count is not representative in terms of biomass of the canyon. Below mile 3.0 the canyon’s biomass is dominated by the native Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii). The overall visual impression is dominated by native plants.

* * * *

In April 3rd, 2009, the City announced plans to do a controlled-burn during the summer along the entire length of City Creek Canyon in order to remove fuel debris and reduce damage from any wildfires (Deseret News). On April 3rd, 1945, a lecture by University Biology Prof. A. M. Woodbury was scheduled followed by a field trip to City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 3, 1934, the annual state-wide running race up City Creek Canyon was scheduled (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 3, 1933, the annual state-wide running race up City Creek Canyon was scheduled (Salt Lake Telegram).

April 3, 2017

March 31st

Filed under: Glacier lily, River birch, Sounds, Stream — canopus56 @ 11:48 am

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part XII – Water Protection

2:00 p.m. It has rained through the night and into the morning, but in the afternoon the front passes and all is sunlight. The stream’s seasonal flow has peaked, and I measure its decline using the Zen Rock (January 4th) as a measuring weir. The rock is narrower at its base for about eight inches above the stream bed, and this is the result the annual high water erosion over geologic time. Three days ago, the stream was at the top of the narrowing base, but today, it is four inches lower than this high-water mark. The stream’s melodious and meditative sound continues to dominate the canyon road. The automated SNOTEL hydrograph for the Lewis Meadows station shows how unusual this year is (Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2017). The 1981 to 2010 median behavior of the snowpack is to accumulate through the middle of March, decline slightly, and then re-accumulate snow to the first of April. Only then does the annual melt and peak run-off occur. This year snow accumulated through the first week of March, precipitously declined through mid-March, had the smallest of increases, and now is resuming its fast evaporation.

One River birch below picnic site 3 has begun to grow its spring seeds. The leaves of the Wood’s rose bushes have grown to one and one-half to two inches in length. Keay at the University of Idaho found that mule deer and squirrels forage on glacier lilies (Keay 1977). I will keep a watch on the lily field above the west side of picnic site 6 for grazing squirrels and deer, but I expect few deer, since they prefer the east side of the stream where they can quickly escape into the thickets.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 31st, 1853, he observes that hazel tree catkins are turning yellow and shedding pollen. He and hears robins and a warbling vireo. On March 31st, 1860, he notes that white maples have red fringe tops. n March 31, 1857, he notes that the earth is sufficiently unfrozen to dig a garden. (He notes that during winter at that time, the dead are left frozen outside until the ground unfreezes, and then the dead can be buried.) On March 31st, 1858, he sees a flock of 12 black ducks. On March 31st, 1860, he sees small red butterflies.

* * * *

It was during the 1952 to 1975 canyon access hiatus that a major natural gas pipeline was run in a straight line across the canyon at mile 1.3 from the Avenues to Bountiful. The pipeline’s alignment disregarded contours, and on the south side of the road, a switchback road runs up a near vertical face, repeatedly crossing the pipeline track. On the west-south side of the canyon, a single road makes one switchback and then steeply climbs directly to the west ridge. (Personal observation).

During the hiatus, wide dirt fire protection access lanes were run west-to-east along both the north and south ridgelines, and where four-wheel drive enthusiasts might try to drive down into the canyon the erected steel wire barriers. These have fallen into disrepair and are now replaced with paper signs. Additionally, a network of Forest System routes where allowed to fade back into the landscape. In the mid-1980s, I reviewed with the two Wasatch-Cache National Forest recreation officers an old map of the forest system trails that covered City Creek and the other canyons to the south. Numerous small trails, probably made by earlier miners and lumber harvesters, existed in City Creek. (I did not copy the map.) By Forest Service policy, these were allowed to overgrow and disappear in the modern forest (Personal communication). The best example of an old, now disused trail is the Freeze Creek Trail that used to run north from Lower Rotary Park to Rudy’s Flat and on to Mueller Park on the City-Creek Bountiful ridge. The old trail is well-preserved for the first mile, but it now fades out one-half mile below the ridge. This route was once considered as part of a skyline drive from City Creek and back down to Bountiful (Salt Lake Telegram, September 14, 1927). Effectively, this prevents hikers and mountain bikers from riding down the trail from Bountiful and into City Creek.

The effect of these trail and fire road changes made during the public access hiatus was to wall off canyon access except at the lower gate, at the two roads that follow the natural gas pipeline, and at the Smuggler’s Gap trail (September 1st and 9th) at about 1.2 miles above the end of the road and 6.5 miles from Guardhouse Gate. With those closures and the annual exclusion of automobiles from the canyon for six months each year, the canyon has time to recover.

March 19, 2017

March 19th

Filed under: Chuckar, Flood retention pond, Geology, Kingfisher, People, Sounds, Stream — canopus56 @ 7:58 pm

Erosion across Geologic Time

5:00 p.m. Kingfisher! Above Guardhouse Gate, a Belted kingfisher has made its annual migratory appearance. The bird is agitated. As it flies in a circular path a hundred yards in diameter, it makes two-second rapid-fire calls. Usually, the kingfisher is seen at the flood retention pond at Bonneville Drive and Canyon Road. There it perches on a tree next to the upper pond and peers down into the waters looking for its next meal of Brown trout. But the pond was been cleared out by the City that fears an earlier spring flood (March 5th and 16), and for the last week about twenty anglers have been cleaned out both the upper and lower ponds of fish. There is nothing left for the kingfisher to eat. On the drive back home, another early bird sign of spring appears. Three chukars scurry across the road. It is the last day of winter, and the canyon is again busy with an overflowing parking lot. There are about eighty strollers, couples with substitute child-dogs, and bicyclists. Two Rock squirrels scamper across the road. At the pond at picnic site 5, someone has partially pulled out the tree branch that grows horizontally across and below the surface of the pond. The limb has been growing there for about ten years, judging from its size. Fall, trout used this branch as a hiding place. They feed on the water skaters along the outside edge of the pool, but when disturbed by people, the trout bolted underneath the branch (October 21st). Now their hiding place is gone. I am looking forward to the next cycle of annual life and to watching the canyon come fully alive.

The milky high-runoff stream continues its loud roar.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 19th, 1842, he records a strong west wind that generates haze. On March 19th, 1856, he records a 16 inch deep snow. On March 19th, 1858, he sees numerous gnats. He sees redwings. On March 19th, 1859, he notes a strong wind and notes how wind reflects off of blowing trees. On March 19th, 1860, he admires pitch pine trees in the spring light.

The milkiness of the stream reveals that it contains sediments, but is this small stream enough to have carved out the gorge of lower City Creek Canyon below Bonneville Drive over the last 11,000 years? Crudely abstracted, the lower gorge is 2 miles long by 0.1 miles wide and by 200 feet deep, or about 0.008 cubic miles, and it formerly contained about 1.2 billion cubic feet of earth. A rough estimate of sediment transport from City water quality data suggests that the stream could have made the lower gorge over the last 11,000 years.

Most data about water quality in City Creek Canyon is from measurements by the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, but it is easily obtained. The U.S. Geological Survey maintains an archive of water quality and volume measurements of City Creek, including the City’s data, as part of its National Water Information System (U.S.G.S. 2017c), and a set of water quality measurements from 1964 to 1966 includes the dry weight of dissolved solids in City Creek stream water. The stream transports a surprisingly wide range of daily weight of solids down the canyon, but in terms of unitized acre-feet of stream flow, the stream transports a steady proportion of about 0.4 tonnes of dry solids in each acre-foot of water. City Creek stream flow data from the National Resources Conservation Service gives a mean annual flow for the stream of about 11,700 acre-feet per year (NRCS 2017), soils in Utah typically contain about 35 percent water, and a cubic foot of soil weights about 100 pounds. Putting all of this together gives a rough first-order estimate that little City Creek stream has transported about 1.5 billion tonnes of sediment to the delta over the last 11,000 years*. Over geologic time, City Creek’s little stream could have carved out the lower canyon gorge, and this estimate excludes extreme flooding events, like the flood of 1983, where the canyon’s flood waters run as a thick, dark red mass of mud, silt, and boulders.

* – 11,700 acre-feet per year x 0.4 tonnes dry weight per acre-foot divided by 0.65 percent dry weight x 11,000 years x 2,000 pounds per ton divided by 100 pounds per cubic foot of soil = 1.489 billion cubic feet.

On March 19th, 1892, Mayor Baskin and the City Council met at the old Silk Mill to decide if it should be torn down (Deseret Weekly).

March 18, 2017

March 18th

Filed under: Arrowleaf balsamroot, red bridge, Seasons, Sounds, Stream, Woods Rose — canopus56 @ 7:24 pm

Modern Distractions

3:00 p.m. Only a few reminders remain of this morning’s 300 person St. Patrick’s Day scenic fun run from the Capitol and down City Creek Canyon below Bonneville Drive. Running and bicycling events are common in the modern canyon, and I estimate that there are about twenty held each year. Today’s eighty degree temperature is another record breaking high, and the canyon and its wildlife is in new uncharted terrain. The stream remains well below flood stage, but runs high and loud. All I can hear is the stream. The sounds of the few birds in the canyon are muffled under the stream’s white noise. On a whim, I decide to hike along part of the route of the 1880s water pipeline that runs along the south east wall of the canyon from the red bridge to the Morris Reservoir in the Avenues. There is no trail. There is just a path made by re-burying the water main, and at points along its route, the two-foot diameter iron pipe is exposed. Confusingly, this gravity feed water pipeline runs uphill to Morris Reservoir, although its intake pipe at the water treatment plant is higher than its low point at the red bridge. If gravity fed, pipeline must act as a four mile long siphon.

While hiking along the pipeline, I notice several Wood’s rose plants who, like the one I saw a few days ago near mile 0.2, have opened their buds and extended small leaves. Along this south-west facing sunny hillside, there are many broad leaf ground plants, including Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata Nutt.), have begun to poke up through the earth. Returning down-canyon, I examine dirt areas more closely, but only a stretch near mile 0.1 on the west side of the road shows similar growth by new ground cover plants. These are signs of the coming spring.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 18th, 1853, he sees a blackbird and a song-sparrow, and on March 18th, 1855, a gull. March 18th, 1858, he records many song-sparrows. On March 18th, 1860, he notes skunk cabbage is in bloom.

I have almost reached my third full year of daily jogging in the canyon. During the first nine months, I ran with headphones and listening to music, and today, I estimate for runners more than half run with digital devices playing music, and for bicyclists, about one-third ride listening to music. After the first nine months, I came to feel that the music was a distraction from experiencing the canyon. In a 2014 study, University of Utah psychologist David Strayer, who regularly walks in City Creek Canyon, and his colleagues Ruth Ann and Paul Acthley of University of Kansas, published a study comparing the pre- and post-creativity scores of two small groups of women before and after four day nature hikes where digital devices were banned (Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 14, 2012; Strayer 2012). Test scores in this small study supported new effects of the Attention Restoration Theory (ART) hypothesis. The ART hypothesis is that immersion in nature has a restorative effect on the brain’s depleted pre-frontal executive attention mechanisms. In obvious non-research terms, going outwards restores the soul and replenishes the body. No news there since Lord Byron invented the Grand European Tour to the Alps. But Strayer and colleagues’ small size study also found a new additional effect: immersion in nature is not just restful. Several days without technological devices increases creativity and problem-solving scores measured by a generally accepted psychological test by fifty percent. However, the study size is small and has not been replicated. Medical proof usually requires larger studies or many smaller studies that reproduce the original effect. Usually, I regard the results of one-off small-sample-size studies and their conclusions as provisional, and the results of such studies are are frequently found to be incorrect in follow-up research using larger sample sizes. But while jogging today, I happy to accept Strayer and the Acthleys’ findings, even if it may just be my ego’s confirmation bias seeking self-approval of my decision to ditch my music player. After two-years of running without music and, as today, listening to the sound of the stream, I see runners with cell phones strapped to their arms as disconnected from the canyon experience. But I am being haughty and judgmental.

On March 18th, 1996, Salt Lake City hydrologist Dan Schenck reported 64 inches of snow in upper City Creek Canyon, more than 130 percent of normal (Salt Lake Tribune).

March 17th

Filed under: Cottonwood tree, Flood retention pond, People, Sounds, Stream — canopus56 @ 7:21 pm

Cottonwoods and Lightning

1:30 p.m. Another extremely warm day. Although the parking lot is full, there are few people on the road. They have, like the chickadees, have dispersed along the length of the road, and the crowded canyon is sufficiently empty to evoke a feeling of solitude. The stream roars and water at the flood retention pond now is one-third full. Although the canyon is empty, on the drive out of the canyon along Bonneville Drive and the State Capitol Building, I am seventeenth in a line of pleasure driving cars. This route was originally developed by the City in the early 1900s as a scenic pleasure drive for horse carriage rides to draw tourists off the transcontinental trains, and in the 1910s, the road was improved to accommodate the new automobile tourists.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 17th, 1854, he observes green shoots growing on a south facing bank where snow has partially melted. On March 17th, 1857, he hears a woodpecker and notes green plants grow in puddles between snow banks. On March 17th, 1858, hears bluebirds, sees the season’s first flicker, and sees a robin and a redwing. On March 17th, 1860, he sees flock of shelddrakes.

A portion of the largest mountain cottonwood trees in the first mile are either dead or dying. Those with the largest trunks are also the tallest trees within the first mile, and typically they reach about one-hundred feet in height. Cottonwoods live to be at most 160 years old (Werstak, Fig. 5(a), p. 23). What causes morbidity in these giants? Do they simply grow so high that the physics of raising water one-hundred feet above the ground will no longer sustain their biological requirements? Do they succumb to disease? Three tall cottonwoods in the first 1.2 miles suggest to me that lightening is the principal cause of their demise. Some years ago, I saw one now dead hundred-foot tall cottonwood tree on the south wall of the canyon shortly after it had been hit by lightening. The next day it was still smoking, and it was the tallest tree within several hundred feet. Two equally tall cottonwoods adjacent to each other near picnic site 7 are still alive, but they both have large tracks of missing bark that spiral down the main trunk. On December 23, 1853, Thoreau in his journal described a similar spiral caused by lightening hitting a pine tree. My own speculation is that cottonwoods do not die from old age or disease. They die because as they age they grow to be too tall, and they become the biological lightening rods of the canyon.

On March 17th, 1915, two weather bureau officers began snow-shoeing into upper City Creek Canyon in order to measure the depth of the snow pack (Salt Lake Tribune). They took over 296 snow depth measurements using a hand snow drill (Salt Lake Tribune, March 17, 28, 1915, Salt Lake Telegram, March 31, 1915).

March 5, 2017

March 5th

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part III

2:00 p.m. It is a day of pre-spring, March wind. Temperatures have risen in the sixties, but it is cool because the wind has been gusting to fifty and sixty miles per hour. The driving force is a large storm that approaches from the north west, but it is a low pressure vortex, and the storm’s large Coriolis effect arms are sweeping from the southwest. The winds are a precursor to a new storm front that may again blanket the canyon with fresh snow. In the canyon, the cottonwoods groan and sway in the gusts, and their tops move in pendulous oscillations that travel about two feet. There is a great noise. My sound meter phone application is reading spikes of 80 to 100 decibels, and although this is more than level of a jet engine, the ebb and flow of the wind sound has a reassuring and comforting, meditative quality. Where the wind blows through the lower Gambel’s oak branches, it produces a hollow low tone. I have heard this sound before, and I am haunted by a sense of deja vu. After a few minutes, it comes to me. It is same sound as ocean surf on a windy day. It has been some years since I have been to the ocean, and I have forgotten. But this ocean and its noise is of air and not water. The noise is mesmerizing, and although I plan to only take a short one-half mile up-canyon walk, I go for two. The wind has also dried the soil and trees. Snow is gone, evaporated, except for a four or five one foot square wind-protected patches near mile 0.3. A day ago where abundant dark green mosses stood high from the sides of tree trunks, now only desiccated flat dull green mats are found. Cracking leaves are pushed up the canyon road in groups like flocks of birds. The high wind keeps all insects and birds in hiding, except for one. A miniature red-brown centipede about two-inches long but only 2 or 3 millimeters in diameter crawls across the road. Below picnic site 6, there is a group of unidentified bushes that retain a light-yellow waxy fruit. At the Bonneville Drive canyon mouth, the City has unleashed a large back hoe on the cattail grove in the flood retention pond. Their remains are stacked in a rotting pile. This may affect the return of the spring hummingbirds, as the cattail grove is their favored feeding ground (August 1st).

In 2016, the City updated its management plan for noxious non-native plants, and the report included an assessment of native, that is pre-colonization, biota of Salt Lake City habitats including those types found in City Creek Canyon and the valley floor. The main habitats are:

• Sagebrush Grasslands and Sagebrush Shrublands habitat, applicable to the valley floor, to the lower canyon below Guardhouse Gate, and along the western slope of City Creek between milepost 1.0 and 3.0.

• Bigtooth Maple and Gambel Oak Woodlands habitat, applicable to Pleasant Valley from mile 1.1 to mile 2.2.

• Riparian Woodlands and Shrublands habitat, applicable to banks and floodplains surrounding the stream from Guardhouse Gate to mile 5.0 and to the flood retention ponds at the intersection of Bonneville Drive and City Creek Canyon Road and at mile 3.0.

• Emergent Marsh Wetlands, applicable to stream and stream banks from Guardhouse Gate to mile 5.0.

The dominant native plants in each area are listed as follows:

List of Common Native Plants by Habitat (SWCA Environmental Consultants 2016)

Sagebrush Grasslands and Sagebrush Shrublands

• Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides).

• Bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata).

• Mule-ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis).

• Arrowleaf balsamroot(Balsamorhiza sagittata) .

• Wild geranium (Geranium L. spp.).

• Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.).

• Rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa).

• Yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus).

Bigtooth Maple and Gambel Oak Woodlands

• Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.)

• Bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum Nutt.)

• Oregon grape (Mahonia repens).

• Wild geranium (Geranium viscosissimum).

• Mule-ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis).

Riparian Woodlands and Shrublands

• Cottonwoods (Populus angustifolia and P. fremontii).

• Box Elders (Acer negundo L.).

• Willows (Salix L. spp.).

• Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii Lindl.).

• Black hawthorne (Crataegus douglasii Lindl.).

• Golden currant (Ribes aureum Pursh).

• Buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea [Pursh] Nutt.).

Emergent Marsh Wetlands

• Cattails (Typha L. spp.).

• Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa [Torr.] and A. incarnata [L.]).

• Bulrushes (Schoenoplectus [Rchb.] Palla spp.).

• Spikerush (Eleocharis R. Br. spp.).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 5th, 1852, he observes that red maple and elm buds are expanding and maple sap is flowing. He examines tree lichens growing. On March 5, 1859, he watches a nuthatch and admires its song.

January 30, 2017

January 30th

Filed under: Birds, Elk, milepost 1.5, Sounds — canopus56 @ 8:52 pm

Wing Flutter

4:30 p.m. Because of the inversion layer, the air quality index on this clear day is in the unhealthy range of 150 and about 55 micrograms of PM 2.5 dust for each cubic meter of air. There are no air quality monitoring stations in the canyon, but a private station up Emigration Canyon also reads an AQI of 150. At milepost 1.5 in City Creek, on Black Mountain, the trees are no longer white frosted (Jan. 27th), but are again green. Black Mountain is seen through a dusty haze and as the sun sets is glows pink, not yellow, from the air pollution.

Turning down-canyon, two events quickly happen in the twilight. On the high west ridge the silhouette of a large bull elk appears. He has large antler rack that is visible to the naked eye from almost a mile away. Through my monocular, I count five points on each antler. This bull is safe from hunters (Jan. 27th); only taking antler-less elk is currently legal, and the antler-less hunt ends tomorrow.

Next, a flock of small birds silently flies about fifty feet overhead traveling up-canyon. There are about seventy-five in all, and although there is simple city rumble noise (Jan. 14th), I can hear the delicate sound of their wings fluttering in the thick cold air. In the dimming light I cannot identify them, but I suspect that they are European house sparrows. A owl and three chickadees are heard but not seen. At one of the spring seeps near mile 0.7, another unidentified bird lands a tuft of grass in the seeps and expertly dips down to take a sip of the cold trickle of water. It flits to another tuft and then repeats this twice before flying off.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 31st, 1852, he enjoys how snow lays in decks on pine trees. On January 31st, 1854, he remarks how simple sounds of sparrows or buds on a tree provide relief from winter.

On January 30th, 1877, Carl Dahlgreen displayed his painting of Pleasant Valley, City Creek Canyon at the Salt Lake Tribune offices (Salt Lake Tribune). It is one of his series of Utah landscapes. Carl Dahlgreen (a.k.a Charles Dahlgren) immigrated from Denmark to Salt Lake City in 1870 where he opened an art school. In 1878, he moved to California and become a noted California landscape painter (askArt, Family History). The current location of his painting of Pleasant Valley is unknown.

January 26, 2017

January 26th

Filed under: Black-billed magpie, Gambel's Oak, Sounds, Unidentified, Weather — canopus56 @ 10:35 pm

The White Tube Frozen

4:00 p.m. Throughout the morning, a light snow falls and this refreshes the snow on the trees in the canyon. It remains in the twenties during the night and into the day, and as a result, the snow that has accumulated on branches remains. The White Tube (Nov. 24th and 25th) has continued since last January 21st (“Snow Storm”) through today. In this regard, the January White Tube differs from its November counterpart. In November, the snow quickly melted raining water and slush droplets on the road’s walkers and runners. Now, the White Tube is frozen in time; nothing melts.

The canyon is extraordinarily quiet; there is no city rumble intruding into the canyon. There are only a few other walkers, runners and bicyclists. I find myself stopping every third-of-a-mile and just to listen to sounds. Every golden note from the stream is relatively loud and crisp. Where the road runs immediately adjacent to the stream and its spill-ponds, I stop and I am entranced by stream-song.

High on the south-east ridge at the entrance to Pleasant Valley, a group of Black-billed magpies have congregated in a Gambel’s oak copse. Although they are distant, their distinct profile with their long tails gives them away. Over this ridgeline copse, the silhouette of a large raptor appears. It is too far to identify, but the black shape suggests it is an eagle. It is traversing the canyon to the western ridge using continuous strong flaps to gain altitude. In contrast during the summer, great thermals effortlessly carrying the soaring raptors from ridge to ridge. A lone Northern flicker is heard in the woods. Unseen under the snowpack, squirrels and Rocky mountain deer mice lead hidden lives.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 26th, 1853, he observes that some snow drifts in regular spaced bands.

A letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Herald proposes two alternatives to the City Engineer’s proposal to spend $400,000 to buy up water rights in Big Cottonwood Canyon. First, was to build a reservoir in City Creek Canyon.

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at